Dubrovnik Gigapixel Photograph

Gigapixel Photography

We’ve worked on many projects creating gigapixel (super high resolution) images. We’ve put together a FAQ below to answer the main questions around gigapixel photography. Find out how these images can be used, and get help to plan a gigapixel shoot.

What is a gigapixel?

Gigapixels are huge photographic images. They are designed to be viewed on-screen in an interactive format, or as very large prints with an amazing amount of detail.

How many pixels make a gigapixel photograph?

A gigapixel image is one that contains over one billion pixels. To put that into perspective, a standard high-definition image has about 2 million pixels. There are 1,000 megapixels in a gigapixel. “Giga” is a prefix that means one billion, so a gigapixel is equivalent to one billion pixels. Meanwhile, “mega” is a prefix that means one million, so there are one million megapixels in a gigapixel.

How are gigapixel images captured?

It’s not dissimilar to capturing 360 images – in that it’s a stitched process and shot from a panoramic head. The basic setup is a camera mounted on a tripod with a panoramic head. This allows the camera to move around the nodal point of the lens. We capture the scene with many overlapping exposures. We then ‘stitch’ these together in post-production to create a single gigapixel canvas.

Panorama showing how photographs are shot in rows and columbs to make a stitched giapixel

How many gigapixels can can be achieved in a single image?

There are many variables to consider when trying to capture large images. Theoretically, a long lens coupled with the highest megapixel camera would achieve the highest pixel count. Records are being broken all the time, but a recent 360 gigapixel shoot used a 400mm lens with a 2X extender (making it an 800mm lens). The shoot took 35 hours and stitching took around two months. While it’s always fun to break records we firmly believe the final image needs to be beautiful and to a high standard. Images should be sharp at 100% and free from stitching errors and ghosting.

What is a practical resolution for very high resolution images?

It’s important to decide what resolution will satisfy your brief. Many of the environmental factors are often out of our control. For example, if the brief is to capture a five gigapixel image from a roof top this might equate to a 40 x 5 exposure collage. We need the light to remain as constant as possible. This makes shooting at twilight or night tricky. Often the best compromise is to reduce the pixel count in favour of more interesting light. In some situations we shoot using the Phase One medium format system with 151 MP to have the maximum megapixels with the minimum exposures.

Twilight Gigapixel
Gigapixel photograph at twilight

Will a gigapixel load quickly when viewed over the internet?

A gigapixel is formatted for online viewing by being cut into hundreds of thousands of multi-resolution jpeg tiles. As you explore the interactive gigapixel, the tiles are downloaded on demand. This is a seamless & bandwidth-efficient solution – because only the requested tiles are downloaded.

Do you use a motorised panoramic head?

This depends on the shoot situation. Artwork and indoor shoots are ideal for a motorised head. Motorised heads work very well in a low wind environment, but not so well from the top of a tall building at twilight.

What is the ideal lighting conditions for a successful gigapixel?

We really want all the exposures to be a very similar exposure. Shooting on a day which is sunny with clouds can be tricky because you need to pause the shoot and wait for the clouds to clear. A cloudy day or a sunny day is best for capturing gigapixels with a higher pixel count. We find shooting at twilight creates more interesting images. However, we need to reduce the number of exposures to fit within a 15 – 20 minute window.

Can you capture gigapixel images with action or movement in the scene?

With careful planning it should be possible to capture a scene with action. We often capture the whole scene and then concentrate on the sections with action. In some situations we use multiple camera rigs. blankblank
Gigapixel shoot for Fulham FC Craven Cottage 2022

How do people use gigapixel images?

– An online gigapixel treasure hunt. This is where users have to hunt through the scene to find something. We’ve used this on campaigns where viewers have to find a code, or even a single person in a huge cityscape. These are a great way for brands to engage with their online audience.
– Many of our gigapixels are very high resolution cityscapes which are printed at large scale. The largest to date was printed at 40 metres / 131ft – thus about the length of 4 double-decker buses lined up end-to-end). They can be used in Expos, as wallpapers or on large-scale posters.

We hope this has been helpful. If you have a project in mind, it’s often best to talk through the ideas at concept stage. Please do feel free to get in touch for an informal chat.